Minnesota River State Water Trail: State Highway 4 to LeSueur

Minnesota River Water Trail

From State Highway Four to LeSueur, the Minnesota River flows gently through the fertile farmland of the southwestern part of the state. The Minnesota River today is far removed from the powerful glacial River Warren that carved out its wide valley. There are no major rapids. About rapids classes.

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Minnesota River Water Trail sections and maps:

Local contact

River location map
Order map

Brown, Nicollet, Blue Earth, and Le Sueur Counties, southern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Southern Regional Office: (320) 359-6067.

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River character

This segment of the river is gentle and does not require special paddling skills. There are no dams or rapids throughout this stretch, allowing for a relaxing day on the water.


The river meanders endlessly from State Highway 4 to LeSueur, between low banks covered with willow, cottonwood, elm, ash, maple and basswood. Oak, hard maple and cedar cloak the higher hills in the valley.

Fish and wildlife

The Minnesota also supports a large and relatively diverse fish population. Anglers searching the snags and roots wads can hook flathead catfish exceeding 40 pounds. Anglers searching river runs and pools can also hook channel catfish exceeding 10 pounds. Walleye are fairly numerous and vulnerable to angling when congregated.

Anglers may also catch an occasional northern pike, smallmouth bass, and shovelnose sturgeon.

Anglers should continue to report tagged flathead catfish to Department of Natural Resources, Hutchinson Fisheries Management Area, 20596 State Highway 7, Hutchinson, MN 55350.

The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Go to the Fish Consumption Advisory Page to find out more.


French fur traders discovered the river in the late 1600s, naming it Riviere St. Pierre. One Trader, Pierre Charles LeSueur, found what he believed to be a vein of copper ore near the mouth of the Blue Earth River (river mile 116). The Dakota Indians used the bluish green earth along the river as a pigment.

Taking a sample of the "copper" to Paris, LeSueur secured the royal commission to mine the ore. He returned in 1700, diligently worked the mine, and with two choice tons of ore, left for France. Nothing more was heard of Le Sueur's copper ore. Presumably his disappointment was great when he learned the blue earth was, after all, only blue earth.

The city of Mankato, established in 1858 near the mouth of the Blue Earth, takes its name from Makata Osa Watapa, the Dakota name for that river.

By the mid-19th century people to the east were clamoring for the Minnesota River valley to be opened to settlement. In 1851 the United States signed the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux, acquiring from the Dakota almost 24 million acres of land. Hordes of immigrants began pouring in. The river was the highway to settlement, bringing passengers and goods to the growing towns and cities.

James Goodhue, St. Paul's first newspaper editor and the Minnesota valley's most enthusiastic public relations man, wrote that along "the whole length of the fertile Minnesota, and upon the waters of the Blue Earth, settlers have not only gone over, but have built houses and stables, and cleared lands, not dozens of settlers, or scores, or hundreds, but thousands of them."